Those camping this Memorial Day will have to skip toasting marshmallows and swapping stories around the campfire.
By CHASE SQUIRES
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 18, 2000
DADE CITY -- Memorial Day campers must go without campfires. The Boy Scouts must go without fireside stories.
State Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford announced a ban on all outdoor fires Wednesday, a ban that hits east Pasco camping spots less than two weeks before the popular Memorial Day weekend.
"This affects hundreds of people. I spent the morning on the telephone calling all the Boy Scouts and other groups that have standing permits," said Withlacoochee State Forest recreation specialist Lynn Marine. "They love their campfires. They'll be sorely missed."
At the 156,000-acre park that stretches north and east from east Pasco, Marine said most of the roughly 215 campsites will be occupied for the weekend, but already state workers are posting signs warning against campfires.
"The winds are too high, the humidity too low and the drought index too much of a threat," Marine said.
Erin Albury, supervisor of the forest, said the rules are tough, but he hoped visitors would comply.
"We've gone from subtropical in Florida to arid. I just don't know what's normal anymore," he said. "I hope people understand and bear with us."
Overnighters and day-trippers may still use gas-powered stoves, if they are placed on raised platforms or picnic tables, Albury said.
At Pasco County's Withlacoochee River Park, Crawford's decree Wednesday was nothing new. Fires have been forbidden for weeks because of the dry conditions, supervisor Burt Williams said.
"I know we'll be full for Memorial Day, but they'll just have to work with us," he said. "It's just too dry. We can't have fires. The Withlacoochee River is mostly dried up. . . . I helped build that park 13 years ago, and I've never seen this area so dry."
Announcing the statewide burn ban Wednesday, Crawford pointed to the fire tearing up New Mexico.
"One need only to look at the uncontrolled fire in Los Alamos, New Mexico, to see how quickly fire can get away from people during drought conditions," Crawford said in a department news release.
But even with the ban, the Boy Scouts are prepared, regional executive Les Baron said. "It won't interfere with what we have going," Baron said. "Campfires are a fun part of Scouting and a learning experience, but they aren't essential."
Baron said he would be reviewing Crawford's order and would spread the word to the four Scout campgrounds in the eight-county council, including one in Brooksville and one just south of the Pasco County line in Odessa.
"We've been making much more use of small propane stoves, with emphasis on low-impact camping," he said, "although it might take a little bit of fun out of telling a story around the campfire."